Saturday, December 1, 2007

Judas is No Hero

There’s a an interesting op-ed piece in today’s New York Times by April D. Deconick entitled “Gospel Truth.” Deconick is a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University and the author of The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says. In her op-ed piece, she discusses how the National Geographic translation of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas makes a number of errors, the most egregious error being that it makes Judas out to be a hero when, in fact, the text says that Judas is a demon.

Here’s some of what Deconick says:

Amid much publicity last year, the National Geographic Society announced that a lost 3rd-century religious text had been found, the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. The shocker: Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed. Judas’s reward? Ascent to heaven and exaltation above the other disciples.

It was a great story. Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon. …

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals. Because Judas is a demon working for Ialdabaoth [whom the Gnostics equated with the Hebrew Yahweh], the author believed, when Judas sacrifices Jesus he does so to the demons, not to the supreme God. This mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist. …

I have wondered why so many scholars and writers have been inspired by the National Geographic version of the Gospel of Judas. I think it may stem from an understandable desire to reform the relationship between Jews and Christians. Judas is a frightening character. For Christians, he is the one who had it all and yet betrayed God to his death for a few coins. For Jews, he is the man whose story was used by Christians to persecute them for centuries. Although we should continue to work toward a reconciliation of this ancient schism, manufacturing a hero Judas is not the answer.

Read it all.

(Also, check out Deconick’s blog.)


UPDATE - December 4, 2007

"The Anglican Centrist" has posted some commentary on this story that's worth reading. Here's some of what he says:

The surge in popularity of Gnosticism in recent times is in my view evidence of the "Let's Make Up Our Own Religion" impulse. Many have tried -- whether in pop-historical-fiction like the Da Vinci Code -- or in pop-theology like Elaine Pagels' work -- to argue that the faith claims of Christianity are no longer tenable in light of 'discoveries' of numerous texts long suppressed by the Church. Most of this speculation, however, simply does not stand up to scholarly scrutiny. ...

... as intriguing and artifactually important as the many Gnostic texts are -- they generally read like the rantings of Creation-despising anti-Semites at worst, or bundles of fortune cookie sayings -- which, at best, aren't all that great. Truly the best feature of the Gnostic texts is that they are historically interesting and shed important light on other ideas floating about in the first few centuries of the Common Era. They simply do not have the horsepower of content, construction or continuity with living faith communities across time and space to make a single dent in the heart of the Jewish or Christian faiths.

Moreover, as in their own time, many now most vested in publishing the Gnostic writings widely take liberties with the texts in what they even say on their own. Just as the Gnostics themselves would freely change received texts as it suited them, so to the neo-Gnostics (like Pagels and others) are doing likewise.

Read it all.

And speaking of Elaine Pagels, note this article entitled "The Pagels Imposture."


ANOTHER UPDATE - June 6, 2008

Fr. Greg Jones unveils more the pseudo-scholarship in this case in his posting "Gnostic Popularizers Do What They Do: Make Up Stuff."

No comments: